Coaching advice for Scrum Masters (Part 4): Not Answering Questions, but Questioning the Answers!

Coaching Scrum Masters may spent quite a long time to perfect their Questioning and the Timing of their questions.

They are aware that they are not there to ANSWER QUESTIONS … but rather QUESTION ANSWERS.

I am not a fan of mystifying stuff myself, so let me explain:

As a Coach, a Scrum Master is there to get the Scrum Team to doubt their assumptions, and question what they have taken for granted so far, so they would open their minds to the possibility of finding better answers to their current problems.

After all, as Einstein once said – he probably said it many times in many places – We cannot resolve problems by using the same mindset that created them in the first place!

So let’s agree upfront, that there is not Perfect Way for Coaching, or Asking Questions, or Getting the Scrum Team to Question their own assumptions. We do what we do, to the best of what can do at any point in time, and try to be better at what we do, in the meantime, so we would ask better questions and do a better job at getting the Scrum Team to find their way up to the higher grounds.

We must to try to get better at using Effective Questioning in our work in this manner:

  1. Actively engage the client (Scrum Team) through showing that we are present in the moment and do mean what we are asking about and do listen to the answer they provide.
  2. Avoid boxing-them-in with sniper-questions (i.e. ask them open ended ones so they can have freedom of thought when they stop for a moment to deliberate on what you asked; Let their mind roam free and come back with fresh insights!)
  3. Get them to feel safe and comfortable answering your questions, as it should carry no blame or finger-pointing in it! (Try to avoid cornering them into a defensive stance! You are not there to judge them to get them to feel embarrassed from their past situations).

German’s have a very interesting position in the enterprises that provide coaching to the staff:

The Director of Critical Questions

Which is responsible for well designed questions that would bring the most engaged, most functional answers to teams’ problems, through asking the most effective questions.

But Germans are traditionally biased towards “Over Engineering” everything, so when trying to replicate that approach, be careful not to overcook that recipe!

Getting the Scrum Team to pause a moment to reflect on their current status and past experiences in seeking a resolution for the current problems is a great achievement as our lifestyle (or more accurately, our life-work imbalance!) have taken away our habit of reflecting on our issues.

While doing that, you should resist the urge to embed your answer inside the question you are asking.

Don’t fall into Analysis-Paralysis! Spending too much time on perfecting your questions would keep you away from engaging the Scrum Team early in the process and would delay your help to their self discovery and solution finding.

A Good Questions can be the question your Scrum Team never asked themselves, or were never comfortable enough to ask, but it should also be a properly gauged question that does not come out as confrontational or blaming.

If the Scrum Team feel unsafe and under siege, they would lock down mentally and won’t be able to open up to you or try to think independently.

Your questions so provoke thinking in the Scrum Team without pushing them in the direction you like (here personal biases that a coach may have would come into play and start leading the Scrum Team towards the answer the non-neutral coach desires.)

You should also be patient. Scrum Teams who have not experienced working with a coach before, may take a while to open up their minds and start looking for answers. It is important not to wrap up your work with them upon the first answer they come up with, even though they took quite sometime to find it. Encourage them to develop more than one answer, so they will have options to choose from (and a plan B should it prove ineffective).

We will continue our discussion in the next article.


Arman Kamran (The Agilitizer)